If you’ve just bought a wood burning stove, then the first thing you’ll need to know is how to look after it. It might seem strange, given that essentially the stove is just a big lump of metal, but there are quite a few things to keep in mind that will help prolong the life of your wood burning stove. So, without further ado, let’s get into some practical wood burning stove maintenance tips.
A quick note though – all of these tips are based on my own experience of owning a wood burning stove. While having to maintain your stove can be a drawback of owning a woodburner, I find it all quite fun. There could be more awesome tips out there for how to look after a wood burning stove, but the below have helped to keep mine looking tip-top and working amazingly well even after 4+ years of use.
1. Burn the right sort of wood
So this maintenance tip might be one that is obvious and you’re expecting. If it is, then skip down. I’ve included it as the number one tip, though, because it is really important.
If you burn the “wrong” sort of wood over a long period of time, then your wood burning stove is going to run into all sorts of problems. It’s a bit like if you were to eat fast food everyday. Over time, you’ll have all sorts of health issues.
Wrong wood is basically any wood with a moisture content over 20%. Wood with this amount of moisture doesn’t burn as well. It generates more smoke, and can lead to a build up of creosote in your chimney.
Wrong wood is also any composite-type wood, like MDF, plywood or OSB. These types of wood are bonded with lots of chemicals, which when burnt in a wood burner are extremely bad for human health.
If you’re wondering what the “right” types of wood are, then check out my article on the best firewoods to burn in a woodburner (in my opinion).
2. Start hot, end hot
Now, this is hopefully a tip that isn’t as common as the first one. It was told to me by a wood burning stove salesman, and it has proved one of the best tips for looking after my wood burning stove I’ve ever received.
The first part of this concept is simple: when you start your fire, you should aim to get it to temperature as fast as you can.
This helps to prevent an initial smoke-buildup as the fire begins to take off. Smoke is caused by incomplete combustion (i.e. wood not burning hot enough) – so by having a roaring start to your fire, you get less smoke. This then reduces soot build up in your chimney and keeps your stove glass clean (more on that later).
You can start your fire hot by learning how to light a top-down fire, or by using a S-tonne of fire lighters. The top down method is definitely better!
You should also ensure that you leave the right amount of ash in your wood burning stove to help the fire get going quicker.
The second part of this tip is concerned with how you end your fire. Just as you start it hot, you should end it hot. So, make sure that when you put your last log on, that you open up your air vents again and get the fire burning brightly.
You might need to add a few extra pieces of kindling to help the fire on its way if you’ve let the fire die down too much.
Again, the benefits of ending it hot are pretty straightforward. You prevent the fire from smoldering out, which prevents soot build up.
3. Keep your stove glass clean
I’ve written a whole article on how to stop smoke buildup on wood burning stove glass. So, I won’t go into too much detail on this tip.
But I will say that if you keep on top of cleaning your wood burning stove glass, then it will prevent a build up of anything that’s too hard to wipe off. As a result, your glass will continue to be clear for years and years.
If you only clean your glass once a season, then what you’ll find is that your wood burning stove glass will start to get some really stubborn stains on it. Think little black speckle-marks. A friend of ours has these, and they haven’t found a way to remove them without risking scratching the glass. So, basically, regular cleaning is a must.
That said, if you follow the tips in my other article, you’ll find that you won’t have to clean your glass that often at all!
4. Prolong the life of your rope seals
This is a tip passed on to me by my awesome chimney sweep (a seriously cool job in my opinion). Basically, rope seals on the doors of wood burning stoves do deteriorate over time. This means that unless you replace them every few years, then they’ll start to let air in (or smoke out). Either way, you end up with a stove that doesn’t work properly.
Now, there’s not a method that exists that allows you to never replace your rope seals, but you can prolong the life of them by a fair bit!
The tip my chimney sweep gave me is this: when the stove isn’t in use, keep the door “unlocked”. This doesn’t mean that your stove door has to be wide open, just that the door catch isn’t engaged.
What this does is means that there’s no compression pressure on the rope seals for, say, 70% of the year.
In essence, this means that you increase the life of the rope seals by the same amount. If they’re not being compressed, then they’ll last a lot, lot longer.
At the time of writing, I’ve had my stove for 4 years, and still have not had to change my rope seals (and yes, they get inspected each year).
5. Use a stove pipe thermometer
Stove pipe thermometers are an absolute essential for wood burning stove owners. They are really inexpensive, and provided you get a decent one, they provide you with a brilliant way to “read your fire.”
Essentially, stove pipe thermometers give you a broad indication of when your fire is burning too cold, too hot, and just right. And they allow you to do this with a quick glance – no laser thermometers needed.
By using a stove pipe thermometer, it gets you in the habit of feeding your fire at just the right time to maintain an even and optimal temperature.
This means that you won’t end up burning fires that are too cold (and therefore very smokey). And this helps to prevent soot build up in your chimney.
Importantly, though, they also give you a good indication of when the fire is getting too hot. This is crucial for maintaining the life of your wood burning stove, as well as your stove top fan.
As solid as a stove is, there will always be a component within it that can warp or get damaged if the fires within it burn at excessive temperatures.
So, get yourself a stove pipe thermometer and give yourself some peace of mind. Honestly, for the sake of the cost of a few pints, it’s well worth it.
6. Vacuum out your ash
Now, obviously wood burns better on a bed of ash, but there is a point at which a bed of ash becomes a mass of ash.
You can of course scope out the ash with a dustpan, but that doesn’t get rid of all the little bits of ash and charcoal that can build up around the door seals, grates and all of the other nooks and crannies in your stove.
If you don’t get rid of these “bits” then it can lead to abrasion damage on your rope seals, as well as a more inefficient fire as air flow can get blocked up.
If you want to maintain your stove, and keep it in it’s best condition, then get yourself a basic ash vacuum cleaner. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but by using it to clean out your fireplace on a weekly basis in winter it keeps these issues at bay.
7. Get your chimney cleaned
Ok, so I’ve saved the most obvious tip for last because it perhaps goes without saying. But, then I thought that there may be someone out there who would benefit from it, so I’ve included it anyway!
The basic recommendation is that you should have your chimney swept twice a year if you’re burning wood. That’s according to HETAS, so it’s pretty solid advice. Why? Well, because not only does it completely minimise your risk of a chimney fire, but it also improves the draw of air in your wood burning stove which means it burns a lot cleaner.
So, in terms of maintaining your wood burning stove, it’s a win-win.
Now, the average cost of having a chimney swept is only about £50 in the UK, so it’s well worth doing. Especially given the fact that if you have a fire, and you didn’t have your chimney swept then your insurers are unlikely to pay out!
Also, don’t be tempted to sweep your chimney yourself! Buying all the brushes you need can easily set you back a grand, and even then you’re probably going to do a rubbish job. A fireman friend of mine once told me about a chimney fire he attended. The bloke claimed to have swept the chimney himself, but when they put a camera up there, they found out the dude had basically only cleaned a hole through a massive build up of soot and creosote. Why? Because he was using the wrong diameter brushes – numpty.
Summary – Caring for your wood burning stove.
Hopefully this article has provided you with some useful tips for looking after your wood burning stove! Like I said at the start, these are based on my own knowledge and experience, and there may be more awesome tips out there that I have yet to come across. If I learn any more, I’ll add them to this article, but safe-to-say I practice what I preach and my stove is as good as new 4 years on!
If you’re into learning more about your wood burning stove, I’ve put together an overview of how much it costs to run a wood burning stove each year – feel free to check it out!